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Janet Reno Launches Florida Governor Campaign - 2001-09-04

Former Attorney General Janet Reno is off and running for governor of Florida.

Ms. Reno appears popular with Democrats, but could have a difficult time unseating incumbent Republican Governor Jeb Bush.

Ms. Reno took the formal step Tuesday of filing paperwork to open a campaign account so she can raise money for her bid for governor. She told reporters that after months of listening to Florida voters, she believes they want a governor who is not afraid to make hard decisions and willing to stand by them. "I have tried to call things as I see them based on what is right, and I want to continue to try to do that," she said. "And after listening to the people, I felt that the next step was to move forward and to start this run for the position of governor of Florida."

Public opinion polls suggest Ms. Reno will be a popular candidate among Democrats. She has a wide lead among several expected Democratic candidates, including former Ambassador to Vietnam Pete Petersen.

Florida political analysts say Ms. Reno is in a good position to take advantage of Democratic anger in the wake of last November's hotly contested presidential election in Florida that put George W. Bush in the White House.

Tom Fiedler writes about Florida politics for The Miami Herald newspaper told NBC television, "And there remains, I think, a good bit of anger over what happened last November 7 in the presidential election and a good bit of that will be directed at Jeb Bush, the brother of the president. And African-American voters are angry, not just because of what happened last November 7, but because of Governor Bush's positions on such things as affirmative action and college admissions [for minorities] and state contracting [for minorities]." Mr. Fiedler said. "So she has heard an earful from some very powerful [Democratic] groups."

But even if Janet Reno were to win the Democratic primary for governor next year, many analysts believe she would face an uphill battle to unseat incumbent Governor Jeb Bush, the president's brother.

Mark Silva, political editor of the Orlando Sentinel newspaper said on CBS television, "She has almost complete name recognition. Everybody in this state knows who she is. However, her negatives, as the political consultants call them, are very high. There are more people who have an unfavorable impression of her than who have a favorable impression and that is a difficult position to start from," Mr. Silva said.

Ms. Reno will likely have to defend her controversial tenure as U.S. Attorney General. She made few friends in Miami's Cuban exile community last year with the forced return of young Elian Gonzalez to his father in Cuba.

Republicans may also remind voters of her role in the 1993 assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas that resulted in the deaths of 75 people involved in a lengthy standoff with federal authorities.

Ms. Reno's health also could become an issue in the campaign. The 63-year-old Reno was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1995, but says it would not prevent her from serving as Governor.

Florida has never had a woman governor. But Ms. Reno is no stranger to breaking through gender barriers, having served as the first female U.S. attorney general and the first woman to serve as a state attorney in Florida.